Iron Man 3: Screenwriter Drew Pearce On Totally Reinventing The Mandarin

Iron Man 3 is released in UK cinemas tomorrow, and last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with...

Amon Warmann

Contributor

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Iron Man 3 is released in UK cinemas tomorrow, and last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with co-screenwriter Drew Pearce. From working with writer-director Shane Black, to Marvel’s Phase Two and beyond, the discussion yielded some interesting information. It’s all been transcribed for your reading pleasure below.

With the success of last year’s Avengers Assemble, Pearce – perhaps known best for creating British sitcom No Heroics – admits that it was a “huge challenge” writing Stark’s character in Iron Man 3:

Tony saves the world [in Avengers Assemble], and even in the Marvel universe, saying something in that complete and absolute a way is pretty much a full stop. But actually, that became more like the key to unlocking what we wanted to do rather than an impediment, because it just allowed us to go “what’s happening with the man himself”? I think there is definitely a thing where, if you’re a person who becomes famous, or celebrated, or even given a huge amount of responsibility, even if you manage to achieve that it doesn’t tend to fix the things inside you. In other words, those things made you that person but were also the demons as well. 

Listening to Pearce talk about co-writer and director of Iron Man 3 Shane Black, it’s clear that he was a fan of the man who penned the Lethal Weapon series and so much more long before they teamed up. However, the collaboration did not get off to the best of starts. Pearce elaborates;

Basically, I was brought on, about 4 weeks later Shane was brought on. I thought… well I’m out of a job then because Shane Black is coming on as a director, but he’s also technically the highest paid writer of all time in Hollywood. He also wrote a ton of movies that I adore. But what was interesting is that Kevin Feige from Marvel really wanted us to work together, I obviously wanted to keep writing Iron Man 3. So there was a couple weeks of circling each other [Shane and I], and don’t get me wrong I think if that hadn’t worked out I’d have been booted off in an instant! There was this one week where we sat down together to just talk ideas and by the end of it, we went in and had a meeting with Marvel and Shane was just like “I’d love to write with this guy”.

What ended up becoming really interesting is that with most modern blockbusters, there’s a series of writers who come on, whether they’re credited or uncredited, and actually Shane and I are the only two people who have touched the keyboard on this movie which is pretty amazing.

Fans who have been scouring the web for information on Iron Man 3 may know that the film’s portrayal of The Mandarin is vastly different to his comic-book counterpart. When asked about how he and Black went about reinventing the character, it’s clear that the writers were trying to carry over as many elements of the iconic villain as possible without making the film too outlandish;

As a character that pre-exists, certainly in his original form and even in some of the modern day versions, The Mandarin was designed to be a racist stereotype. Plus, he’s completely magical, and the Iron Man universe that Shane and I wanted to get back to was much more about technology and those types of things. So we just had to reinvent the Mandarin for what we thought would be the most powerful, most interesting and most intelligent. So what I feel like we’ve done is that we’ve taken the concept he was created by in the 60’s, which is the idea of a demonised bad guy and we’ve updated that for the modern era.  

Iron Man 3 features some of the most imaginative action in any superhero film to date. So how similar is the finished product to what Pearce and Black initially envisioned?

Sometimes it’s exactly the same, and the interesting thing about the house attack, pretty much the beats in that like the piano [which I know has already been out in the trailer], are pretty much exactly how they were written. There are other ones which are more complicated and have more moving parts, and their shape is more predicated by the ideas that you put into them at the beginning and then the process they go through. So, some of the big action in the final act which again as people know from the trailers, involves a number of Iron Man suits, we chucked a ton of stuff into that on the script level, but there is so much simultaneous action going on that a lot becomes dependent on the quality of your digital artists and the directors of post-production and the quality of the venders, which are the houses you go to get that work done. Wheater, who are amazing, did the final act, and I think it really shows.  

More than ever before, Stark has to fight the bad guys without the aid of his expensive hardware.

Yeah. I mean, we never wanted to sound like we were bored with the idea of suit action, and the movie is called Iron Man, so you want to see Iron Man! When you’ve got somebody like Robert Downey Jr., he’s athletic and inquisitive and mercurial. To not be able to use that in action sequences would be a terrible shame. I think Shane Black is an icon of human action heroes and so you want to tap into that as well.

With Iron Man 3 kick-starting Phase Two, you might’ve thought that knowledge of what was going to happen in future movies might have had an effect on the screenwriters. Surprisingly, Pearce assures us that wasn’t the case;

We were actually privy to most of the information and to the script and to the rough cuts of the other movies that hadn’t come out at the time. But actually just because of where we fell in the Phase One into Phase Two thing, there wasn’t actually any prescriptive guidelines that we had to stick to at all, which was remarkable, we couldn’t really believe it either. I’m sure for other movies there is more of that, but I also think there’s a thing that Kevin wants to do with Phase Two which is he generally wants them to feel like standalone movies that can work on their own. Hopefully we’re a good start to showing that that is doable.

Finally, I asked Pearce about Runaways – the script that inadvertently led to Pearce penning Iron Man 3 – and whether or not we would see it on a big or small screen any time soon;

Kevin Feige and I speak a lot. The great thing is as well as him being President of Marvel, he is also my producer. The bigger question becomes is it a movie that will pull its own weight in Phase Three? I know he loves the script so I would hope that it’s at least in contention. I think what will be interesting for Phase Three and bear in mind we’re just starting on Phase Two now, so we’re wishing our life away a little bit, but I think it really opens up in another direction in the same way that Guardians of the Galaxy opens up one new direction for the Marvel universe, I think Runaways could do the same thing for another part of the MCU. So I would love to see it happen one day, it’s a script I’m really proud of and it’s one of my favourite Marvel comic strips of all time so I would really hope that happens.

Selfishly, I would rather it was a movie than a TV show. I think the danger of it as a TV show is that you need a bad guy of the week, and I think the whole point of Runaways is that the bad guys are their parents. There is an epic, almost Shakespearean quality if you do Runaways right, with the idea of kids having to go up against their parents, and there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to see that necessarily chopped up into 120 episodes. Again it all depends on a number of factors. If it was a cable show I think it would be amazing, it would be ground-breaking. What I’d rather not have is it turn into something overly cute.

Iron Man 3 is released in UK cinemas on 25th April, 2013.